Vertex, Genomics Team Up in Quest for Genetics-based, Precision Medicines

Vijaya Iyer, PhD avatar

by Vijaya Iyer, PhD |

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Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Genomics announced a three-year collaboration to better understand genetic variations and their effect on clinical outcomes of diseases with unmet therapeutic needs, including cystic fibrosis. The collaboration also will promote the development of precision medicine, an approach to customize treatment based on each patient’s genetic differences and lifestyle.

Extendable for up to five years, the partnership will combine Vertex’s expertise on human biology and genetics with Genomics’ machine learning to discover and improve new therapeutic targets. Machine learning, an emerging field of computer science, predicts outcomes based on the ability to identify patterns in previously generated information.

Vertex is a world leader in developing clinical programs for cystic fibrosis, in addition to research programs focused on understanding several other life-threatening diseases. With this collaboration, its goal is to develop precision medicine for patients with such serious illness.

“Human biology and genetics are a foundation of drug discovery at Vertex and the team at Genomics brings together a unique combination of sophisticated data science and human genetics,” David Altshuler, MD, PhD, executive vice president of global research, and chief scientific officer at Vertex, said in a press release.

“This partnership will pioneer new uses of genomic tools and technologies to advance Vertex’s ongoing work … and globally to bring new medicines to the patients that need them,” Altshuler said. As part of the collaboration, he joined Genomics’ board of directors.

Based in the U.K., Genomics uses its proprietary machine-learning algorithm tool, Genomics Engine, to predict any of the expected molecular, cellular, physiological or disease outcome based on genetic differences found in the human genome.

According to Genomics, the Genomics Engine is the largest of its kind in the world, with more than 100 billion data points to help determine genetic variations in more than 14 million positions on the human genome and link them to specific outcomes.

Using this advanced tool, the company is capable of predicting the effect of therapeutic interventions.

“Human genetics has already been shown to have a substantial impact on the success of novel drug targets. Our next generation of data and algorithms promises to be transformative, not just for target discovery but in biomarker selection and patient stratification,” said Peter Donnelly, founder and CEO at Genomics.

“We are delighted to be partnering with one of the most innovative and successful companies in the global biotech sector to help realize that promise to benefit patients and their families,” Donnelly added.

Scientists from both companies will work together to identify therapeutic targets for diseases predetermined by both groups, with the ability to include additional candidates in light of compelling data.

Genomics will receive royalty payments from Vertex for any clinically successful drug targets identified through the collaboration. Vertex also announced a £10.5 million ($13.52 million) investment in Genomics.